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Vol. 81 - No. 4
Apr 2010

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

An "Ask the Pastor" For Holy Week

A member of our confirmation class posed a provocative question: "Why couldn’t God just use His almighty power to destroy the Devil? Why did He choose instead this complicated plan of becoming human and dying and rising again?" The idea of God simply eradicating sin and the Devil with an act of raw, divine power seems attractive. Such an act would be the same kind of direct approach Alexander the Great took when confronted with the complex Gordian knot. The person who figured out how to untie the knot, legend said, would rule the world. Alexander tugged at one string of the knot, then another, then another, with no luck. And then–he unsheathed his sword and brought its sharp edge down upon the knot. That’s how he untied it. Why couldn’t God have taken such a direct approach to sin, death and the Devil–simply cut through them with His almighty power?

God is not simply a God of power–He is also a God of justice. And justice suggested that He take a different approach. Because the Devil actually had a claim on this world. God originally gave the world to Adam and Eve to rule over:

Fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion... (Genesis 1:28)

By sinning, they gave the world over to the Devil–dominion passed from their hands into his. I don’t know that one could say that the Devil’s claim on the world is legitimate–he did deceive Adam and Eve. But it’s a claim nonetheless. The Devil boasts about his rulership over the world when he tempts Jesus:

The Devil took [Jesus] up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a

moment of time, and said to Him, "To you I will give all this authority and their

glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will." (Luke 4:5-6)

Amazingly, Jesus does not dispute the Devil’s claim to be the ruler of the world.

So that, I think, is why God simply didn’t annihilate the Devil. The Devil had a claim on the world. God doesn’t violate this claim with divine brute force–that would be like winning a chess game by simply knocking all the pieces off the board. Rather, God comes up with an amazing plan–in which the Devil ends up defeating himself.

"The cross is like jiu-jitsu," said the Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft. How so? In jiu- jitsu (one of the martial arts), one uses one’s enemy’s strength against him. And that’s precisely what Jesus does with the cross–he uses the Devil’s own evil schemes against him. The Devil thought that, by engineering Christ’s death, he could rid himself of God’s Son–and so he sets things up for Jesus to be crucified:

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples. He went

away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray Jesus

to them. (Luke 22:3)

During supper, the Devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot to

betray Jesus. (John 13:2)

So the Devil orchestrates the betrayal of Jesus. But in conspiring against Jesus, the Devil was unknowingly conspiring against himself–because the cross ends up being the Devil’s undoing:

God canceled the record of debt that stood against us...by nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing

over them in the cross. (Colossians 2:14-15).

The reason the cross is Satan’s defeat is because, on the cross, Jesus pays the price for human sin–He is the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Because Satan’s claim on the world is based on human sin, when that sin is taken away, his claim dissolves.

Jesus defeats the Devil, not with raw divine power, but by suffering and dying.

I’m reminded of the Clint Eastwood film Gran Torino. In that film, Eastwood plays an ageing Korean War veteran whose neighborhood is being terrorized by a gang. We expect Clint to wade into the gang members with guns blazing, like Dirty Harry would. Without giving away the ending, let me simply say that Eastwood figures out a self-sacrificing way to defeat the gang members by using their own violence against them–exactly as Jesus did with the Devil!

The Devil is still around, of course. But because Jesus defeated him, you and I also can overcome him through Jesus: "Resist the Devil and he will flee from you." (James 4:7) His ultimate fate is to be "thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:10) at Christ’s return.

Three other brief points can be made concerning this question of why God simply didn’t destroy the Devil:

(1) Had He destroyed the Devil, there would still be a problem–us. Even with the Devil off the map, God would still have the issue of our sin–sin that needs to be paid for. So even without the Devil to deal with, the death of Jesus on the cross would still have happened.

(2) The coming of God into the world in Jesus, and His sacrifice on the cross, shows us how great God’s love is for us. He loves us so much that He was willing to suffer and die for us. Had God dealt with things by a display of divine brute force instead of through the cross, we would not have seen how very deeply He loves us.

(3) The birth and death and resurrection of Christ show us many great virtues–humility, self-sacrifice, unselfish love. These virtues, which we see in Jesus, are things we can imitate in our own lives. Had God simply resolved things by knocking the pieces off the chess board, we would be denied the powerful example of the crucified Lord and His love.

So God’s plan to save us is wise and wonderful–it defeats the Devil, it wipes out our sin, it shows us how astoundingly great His love for us is, and it shows us beautiful virtues to practice in our lives. Alexander’s flashing sword cut the Gordian knot, but God surrendered Himself to nails and spear, and thereby cut the most vexing knot of all–the knot tied by human sin and Satan’s power. And when that knot is loosed, we are made free!

God loves you and so do I!

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